Creek 3140 Tuner

I don't know who wrote the owner's manual for this FM-only British tuner, but whoever did must have been conforming to an unusual set of specification standards. I couldn't make head or tail of the specs found in the booklet supplied with the 3140; fortunately, the U.S. distributors of this fine-sounding unit from Creek Audio Systems were able to supply the specs listed above.

Having said all that, I must admit that a great deal of thought went into the design of the Creek 3140. As is true of many car stereo tuner circuits, this home component employs a form of automatic stereo "blend" so that, as signals become progressively weaker, the tuner makes a gradual transition from stereo to mono rather than switching noisily between them.

The tuning indicator, mono/stereo switching, and the blend and muting functions are controlled by signals derived from three reception parameters; S/N, detuning, and overall signal strength. The frequency display is digital, calibrated in 100-kHz increments, but the 3140 does not have frequency-synthesized tuning. Thus, if a signal is not precisely on a standard station frequency (a problem with many cable FM signals), the unit can still be tuned accurately.

Muting is gradual, but still fast enough to make the tuning knob appear to operate like a clickless rotary switch, as the owner's manual puts it. Whenever a station signal is encountered, the 3140 unmutes briskly but smoothly at the point where the station is perfectly tuned, and an indicator just above the knob lights up. This effect is much more gradual, and less switch-like, when the AFC (automatic frequency control) is switched off. With AFC on, the desired signal seems loudest when the set is perfectly locked in, getting quieter as you tune away to either side. There is none of the "thump" you usually hear when dialing through FM stations with tuners having conventional circuitry.

Two additional circuit features are worth mentioning. The first, a form of gated AGC (automatic gain control), prevents the front-end from having its gain (sensitivity) reduced when you're listening to a weak signal that is close in frequency to a stronger one. Creek calls the second circuit refinement Detuning-Limited AFC. When tuning from one station to another, AFC is, in effect, negligible or nonexistent. When perfect tuning has been achieved, full-strength AFC takes hold. This action prevents the 3140 from jumping from one strong station to another as it is tuned, missing weaker stations that may lie in between.

Control Layout

The Creek 3140 is very understated in design; it is housed in a wooden wrap and painted black, with the wood grain showing through the paint. It is, in fact, so typically British in its understated look that one almost expects the spoken word received via its circuitry to have the very distinguished BBC accent!

Four pushbuttons near the left end of the simple front panel control i.f. bandwidth (wide or narrow), reception mode (local or distant), stereo defeat, and AFC defeat. A small indicator light above the stereo-defeat button illuminates when a stereo signal is captured. The frequency display is just to the right of center on the panel; farther to the right is the rotary tuning knob (with the light that indicates center tuning just above it) and a power on/off button.

The rear panel is equipped with both a 75-ohm coaxial connector and separate 75- and 300-ohm screw-terminals, for FM antennas. Wisely, I think, Creek does not pack a 300-ohm wire dipole with each set, as so many other manufacturers do. I say wisely because the absence of such a minimal antenna encourages the user to install a more appropriate one. In fact, the company devotes two full pages of its manual to an illuminating discussion about signals, "aerials" (the term our British cousins still use for antennas), and noise.

In addition to the usual rear-panel left and right output jacks, there is a multiple-pin DIN connector; this is common in European equipment but has never gained much favor here. If you can, I would suggest that you obtain the necessary DIN cable and connect it to this output rather than to the individual phono-tip jacks. Why? Because the output level at the phono jacks is only 150 mV or so, while the output at the DIN connector is more than 0.5 V for each channel. In all likelihood, any other program sources connected to your system will yield much higher output voltages (especially CD players, which typically deliver 2.0 V at maximum recorded level). The great difference in loudness levels that you would thus encounter when switching between the 3140's low-level outputs and the normal outputs of a CD player would likely shock your ears, even if it didn't blow your speakers, and would necessitate constant volume adjustment on the associated amplifier or preamplifier.

Use and Listening Tests

The understated appearance of the Creek 3140 is in sharp contrast to the emphasis its designers have placed on accurate tuning, accurate frequency response, and adaptability to all sorts of reception environments. Though the lab results fall short of the best I have ever encountered, as I have noted more than once, measurements don't always tell the full story. Separation of 30 dB is enough to provide realistic stereo imaging, and 0.27% distortion in the FM stereo mode is low enough so as not to detract from the otherwise excellent sound of a properly transmitted FM broadcast. What's more, unlike many other imports from the "mother country," this one carries a quite reasonable price tag. I do take exception to one statement made by Creek in the owner's manual: "Our philosophy is to design products with facilities which benefit the user rather than the reviewer. ..." I say, old chaps! What makes you think we reviewers aren't users-and listeners too? Pip, pip, and cheerio!

Creek 3140 Tuner photo